Wednesday, August 31, 2011

24 Herb Tea - Bitter, Foul-Tasting But Oh So Good For You!

Was out running a couple of errands this entire afternoon and ended up buying groceries at the nearby supermarket. If I had a choice I wouldn't go into this decade-old supermarket because it's small, cramped and you tend to knock into other shoppers with your trolley (yes, the aisles are that narrow). Nic and I figured that we might as well buy our groceries since we were in this vicinity and he did need some coffee. Finally we ended up with a trolley full of cheese, butter, coffee and noodles.

Anyway, I was getting thirsty after all the errands and shopping.

We decided to stop and have a drink at this stall which sells Chinese herbal tea. This uncle who mans it is actually a Hong Kong native who has been living in Malaysia for a long time. He drives a little white van which he parks at the corner of a junction and opens up for business. You see, he sells hot and cold Chinese herbal teas of all types - the kind that is slowly boiled and brewed.

It's common to see Malaysians of all walks of life - businessmen types, sales executives, men, women - who stop by his van to get herbal tea served either in a Chinese soup bowl or plastic cup to quench their thirst and give their bodies a good replenishing of vital nutrients.

He has Five Flower Tea as well as the bitter and foul-tasting 24 Herb Tea.

If you've slept late, worked too hard, been under stress, ate out a lot and exercised too little, the friendly uncle will recommend that you drink 24 Herb Tea, served in a Chinese bowl (RM2.50 per bowl). If you are seriously under the weather (flu or feeling down in the dumps), he would ask if you want some bitter powder added to the tea.

The bitter powder is something that is powerful because if you have the flu, one sip of this tea with bitter powder will probably kill all your germs! It's that foul-tasting!

24 Herb Tea is an all-round tea for cold and cough, fever, headache, tiredness, pathogenic dryness and heat in combination, constipation, halitosis, anorexia, abdominal dissension, weakness, dizziness, pimples and acne. Regularly imbibing this tea will make you hale and hearty.

I was interested to know what is in 24 Herb Tea. We Chinese are damn literal folks. If there are 24 ingredients in the tea, we say it is 24 Herb Tea.

I read that Hor Yan Hor brand also sells this 24 Herb tea in convenient tea bags. I wonder if they consist of the same 24 herbs. Apparently, the tea is touted as the magic cure-all tea for all aches, pains, fevers and such. Their ingredient list contains Camellia sinensis, Glycyrrhiza uralensis, Prunella vulgaris, Gardenia jasminoides, Perilla futescens, Atractylodes lancea, Forsythia suspensa, Scrophularia ningpoensis, Mentha arvensis, Agastache rugosa, Schizonepeta tenuifolia, Cincifuga heracleifolia, Ledeboriella divaricata, Rheum oficinale, Ligusticum wallichii, Buplearum chinense, Angelica anomata, Platycondon gradiflorum, Notopterygium incisum, Elsholtzia splendens, Poncirus trifoliata.

In HK, I've bought Chinese herbal teas in 500 ml plastic bottles (HK$18 each), just like the soda you can buy in 7-11 stores. Whenever I land in HK, I'd be amazed at the wonderful varieties of hot and cold Chinese herbal teas for all types of ailments which you can buy easily from any MRT station where these herbal tea shops are mostly found.

Of course in HK, Chinese tea shops are just about everywhere. Tired and thirsty after a day's walking? Stop by a traditional Chinese tea shop and get your fill of herbal goodness.

Replica of a traditional Chinese herbal tea shop inside the HK Art Museum. It's so 1960s!

As for me, I love anything that's bitter because I know it does my body a lot of good. What about you? Are you up to drinking stuff which tastes horrid but is beneficial to your health?

Here's how the exhibition looks like. 

And here's the real HK Chinese tea shop. This was taken in Central on one of our jaunts last year. That's Nic (bottom right corner of the pic).

The Ancient Art of Tea: Wisdom From the Ancient Chinese Tea Masters
Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch
Chinese Art of Tea

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Alvin Quah's Masterchef Favourite - Drunken Chicken & Cucumber Salad

Remember how I made my version of Drunken Chicken (and which I was terribly pleased with as it was so easy and so yummy!) two weeks ago?

I was inspired to make the dish based on Alvin Quah's recipe which Gary, one of the Masterchef judges, gave the thumbs-up for.

Today I am going to share with you Alvin's recipe which he re-created in one episode of Masterchef 2 (Australia). He also shared a cucumber salad which I have made and yes, it is delicious too!

And yes, I am going to share both recipes here with you because I realized that the Masterchef Australia website does not (I repeat) does not feature these recipes! Why not? Maybe it is to do with copyright. Maybe the Masterchef brand would be publishing their own recipe book based on the creative recipes of their participants. Oh well.

Drunken Chicken by Alvin Quah of Masterchef Australia Season 2

1 liter Shaoxing wine
2 small bottles mirin
some palm sugar
500 ml water

Put all of the above into a pot. Bring to a boil.
Add whole chicken into the pot.
Cover and let it simmer gently for 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
Drain and chop into bite-size pieces. Reserve broth to ladle over the chicken before serving.

Alvin's Cucumber Salad

a handful of peanuts
a handful of dried shrimp
3 pips garlic

In a mortar and pestle, pound the above 3 ingredients.
Add 2 bird's eyes chili and a slice of lime (with skin on). Bruise these gently in the mortar.

In a bowl, combine palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce well. Taste and adjust. (This is the dresssing.)

In another bowl, combine sliced cherry tomatoes, snake bean (or what we call long beans), and cucumber chunks. Mix the pounded ingredients with the vegetables. Drizzle over with the dressing. Before serving, drizzle some sesame oil.

Serve with drunken chicken.

Two Asian Kitchens: Recipes from Australia's Master Chef
Vatchs Southeast Asian Salads
Classic Asian Salads
MasterChef Australia : The Cookbook - Volume 2

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Best Goji Berries Soups From My Recipe Collection

"Kei Chi" or goji berries or medlar seeds or wolfberry seeds - they refer to the little dried red berries which we Chinese love to use in our soups and dishes because they are packed with nutrition.

These berries are given to kids especially by Chinese parents so that their kids will grow up with good vision. In my case,  either I didn't eat enough as a kid or my genes are predisposed to short-sightedness. (Anyway, I had my eyes lasik-ed last year so technology can take care of things for you.)

Goji berries help with the Liver and Kidney meridians. That's why they're beneficial for remedying Kidney Qi deficiency which brings about problems like lower back pain, impotence, dizziness and tinnitus. It helps lowers blood pressure, lowers blood sugar levels and lowers blood cholesterol levels besides acting as a liver tonic and nourishing blood.

Though they're full of goodness, don't overdo it. All herbs in moderation please. If you are prone to excess heat or dampness, don't make it worse. Just a handful in your soup will do. 

If you aren't bothered to boil goji berries in soups, you can add a teaspoon of these berries into a glass, pour over hot water and steep for 5 minutes. Drink it up and chew on the re-hydrated berries too. Or you can also chew on them like you'd eat raisins. The good quality ones are naturally sweet. I once tried Young Living's Ningxia Red drink which is made with goji berries. They tasted great but I'd rather have the real thing. 

I thought I'd round up some of my past recipes on goji berries since they're so easy to eat and so good for your health. 

Matrimony Vine Leaf Soup with Wolfberry Fruits

This is a simple and quick soup and can be ready in 30 minutes. Yes, it is that easy. This soup does not qualify as a slow simmered soup as it needs a fast boil. Very suitable for moms who are home late and need to whip up nutritious yet fast soups. 

Chicken Garlic Kei Chi Soup

 This is a quick soup which can be ready in 30 minutes.

Red Dates, Longan and Medlar Seeds Tea
This is a nourishing tea/sweet dessert soup recipe because the three main ingredients (see title above) are good for building blood, regenerating Qi and beneficial to the eyes. This can be served on its own, as an afternoon drink (please serve it warm) or after a lovely dinner to clear the palate.

Porridge with Kei Chi, Wai San & Pork
Wai san porridge is a great recipe when you are strapped for time. Second of course is that wai san (I'm talking about fresh wai san in this case) is soothing for the stomach. 

Papaya Soup with Medlar Seeds and Ciku Fruit
This soup helps clear the lungs. 

The Book of Jook: Chinese Medicinal Porridges--A Healthy Alternative to the Typical Western Breakfast
Asian Soups (The Essential Kitchen)
The Sweet Spot: Asian-Inspired Desserts

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Drunken Chicken, Inspired By Masterchef 2 Participant, Alvin Quah

Drunken Chicken, Soup Queen's Quick & Easy Version and Absolutely Yummy

It's an understatement to say I love the TV series, Masterchef. I'm talking about the Aussie version which I started to get hooked on beginning with the adorable junior chefs in Junior Masterchef. I was bowled over by the kids' passion and knowledge of food. It puts some of us to shame really when you look at the breadth and depth of these kids' wisdom about cooking good food.

After that I started watching the Masterchef but I think our Astro here started showing only Masterchef 2. I think I missed a few episodes because I wasn't sure what time the show aired. Astro's programming can get a little weird.

But the Australian version of Masterchef, be it the junior or senior/adult versions, are very interesting to watch. Of course, nothing beats the precociousness of the Aussie kids.

Anyway, in one of the last few episodes, Alvin Quah (a Malaysian!) despite not being in the top 3 was picked to recreate his chicken dish - a dish he called Drunken Chicken.

I excitedly jotted down the recipe because Gary, one of the judges, loved it to bits. Especially when you pair it with the cucumber salad.

I have not had time to try Alvin's recipe but I have made something akin to that just this week.

Nic loves Taiwanese food and one of his favourite dishes is - you guessed it - Drunken Chicken or Chicken in Wine. It goes incredibly well with rice. We used to visit this lovely little Taiwanese cafe located on the first floor of Midlands One-Stop Mall for their superb dishes and that is how he got hooked.

(Speaking of which, I managed to get the recipe for the Taiwanese Three-Cup Chicken dish - my fave - and have made it a few times and gotten the thumbs-up from the husband. That is why he likes it when I start experimenting in the kitchen. He knows he's privy to some goodies soon.... goodies for his tummy and good for his health too!)

Technically, Drunken Chicken is more soup than dish because it's the rich broth infused with chicken and wine that makes it such a comfort to eat/slurp up on a cold day. In Penang, we really don't have freezingly cold days (unlike HK in early spring but that's cause I really cannot stand cold) but we do have thunderstorms and rain. I figured this dish would go down well with Kuching people as it rains constantly over there.

In the spirit of Soup Queen, I think this dish is worthy of being featured as it contains herbs (goji berries or 'kei chi' to you and me) and it's really a soup more than a dish. Sometimes I even chew on dried goji berries because they really resemble raisins and taste sweet too. I learn this from my friend who said she chewed on goji berries all the time when growing up and I see it has done her a world of good as she isn't short-sighted at all.

Surprisingly, it was my first attempt at this dish so I am quite pleased that it turned out rather well. *pats myself on the back*

OK, enough chatter.

Here's how the dish looks like once it's done.

A closer peek at the Drunken Chicken 

I made this in my glazed claypot because claypots retain heat well, cooks food to just the right amount of done-ness and keeps food warm (great for keeping fried vermicelli or fried rice before you serve them).

Here are the ingredients.

Half a chicken, chopped into bite-size pieces (rub and marinate with 1 teaspoon salt for 20 minutes)
1/2 cup (125 ml) Shaoxing Hua Diao wine
3 tablespoons dried kei chi or goji berries, soaked in water for a while and drained
1 teaspoon salt
2 small pieces rock sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
5 slices young ginger
2 stalks spring onion
500 ml water

1. Put water, young ginger and spring onion into a pot. Cover and bring to a boil.

2. When water comes to a boil, put in chicken pieces, goji berries, salt, rock sugar, fish sauce and Shaoxing wine. (Actually you can add more wine if you like. As this was my first time, I decided 1/2 cup was just good enough. When I make it again, I would add a little more.)

3. Cover the pot. Reduce fire to the lowest so that the chicken simmers in its own broth. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender. Taste the broth after 30 minutes and see if you need more salt or more wine.

4. Dish up and serve hot.

Nic told me that for more robustness of flavour, I could add a dash of wine once I dish up the chicken and its broth. Hmm, good idea.

This dish tastes even better if you keep it overnight in the fridge and re-heat the next day. The flavours would have been better combined.

But if you smell the loveliness of the dish when you're simmering it on the stove, you probably cannot wait till tomorrow to taste it. It's that good.

In my next post, I will share Alvin Quah's recipe for Drunken Chicken.

A Tradition of Soup: Flavors from China's Pearl River Delta
Soup! Soup! Soup!: Chinese Style